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It has been a year of mixed fortunes in aerospace for Lord. Like most suppliers to commercial airliner manufacturers, the US corporation headed into Farnborough with the “nice problem” of having to ramp up fast to deliver on a large backlog of contracts for Airbus and Boeing aircraft. It has also just secured three engine attachment deals, on Pratt & Whitney-powered versions of the Irkut MC-21, the Chinese Xian MA700 turboprop and the Embraer Legacy 500 business jet. The MA700 deal is significant in that it represents the company’s first major deal in China.

However, one of the company’s core aerospace businesses – vibration control systems for helicopters – has been struggling on the back of the downturn in the offshore oil and gas sector, the major consumer of super-medium rotorcraft. Practically every type is fitted with the Lord system. “There isn’t much activity and we are feeling all of that,” says Bill Cerami, president of Lord’s aerospace and defence business, one of six markets served by the 92-year-old, North Carolina-headquartered industrial group. “The OEMs are looking to another couple of years of downcycle.”

There is better news on the acquisition front. In late June, Lord completed the takeover, announced in March, of Fly-by-Wire Systems (FbW) in southeast France. The company, based in Saint-Vallier, designs and manufactures cockpit controls, sensors, dampers and electromechanical actuators, primarily for fly-by-wire systems on commercial aircraft, and has been a tier one partner of Airbus since the airframer began developing fly-by-wire cockpits in the 1980s.

Cerami describes the acquisition as a “strategic fit” that will “allow us to participate in a greater scale in the trend to the electrification of aircraft” and “really round out our presence in this region”. FbW focuses on the interface between the pilot and the primary controls, with rudder pedals, side sticks and throttle controls, as well as the sensors and actuators for the fly-by-wire system. The purchase will add about $40 million to Lord’s aerospace revenues of roughly $280 million. These represent around a third of Lord’s overall turnover.

Before the FbW acquisition, Lord had set up a technology centre and sales and marketing operation in Europe, but “we wanted to increase our presence capability wise”, says Cerami. “We wanted to participate in the golden age of commercial aviation that some people think is ahead of us. So in the last two years, we’ve had a strategy of looking at [acquiring] complementary product lines.” The FbW purchase will allow Lord to push more in the commercial fixed-wing market “more quickly to take advantage of the ramp up”, but also “to give us a footprint in Europe for manufacturing”.

Another significant breakthrough in commercial aerospace is its contract – also announced in June – to design and build the engine mount system for the Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engine on the MC-21. The deal is through Bombardier in Belfast, which is responsible for the Russian narrowbody’s nacelle. Lord has a long pedigree in engine mountings stretching back to the 1930s. Among the aircraft its products have been fitted to are the Boeing 737, 757 and 767.

In the military helicopter market – traditionally a significant area for Lord – sluggish defence sales have not been helping. “We’ve been on a downward trend since 2012,” admits Cerami. “We think we saw the bottom in military helicopters last year. We are up a bit this year, but not by much. The focus is on retrofit, with many military operators, backed by manufacturers, looking to improve the life and performance of existing kit rather than invest in new metal.

Elsewhere in the rotorcraft world, in another recent win Korea Aerospace Industries has awarded Lord the contract to develop an active vibration control system for its Light Civilian Helicopter, due to enter service in the early 2020s. In addition, Lord is prepared to make some “long-term bets”, says Cerami. An early supplier to the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey programme, it has also been prepared to “invest strategically” in the Sikorsky Boeing SB-1 Defiant prototype, which is not likely to enter service until the mid-2030s.

Source: Flight Daily News